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Swipe Right on The Tinder Hustler

Filmmaker Eugene Kotlyarenko isn’t searching for love or sex on Tinder. He’s just trying to find an audience

Tinder is a marketer’s wet dream — a captive audience of consumers, looking for something or someone, forced to engage with your ads as they swipe through dating prospects. So far, companies like Budweiser, Orbitz and Twentieth Century Fox have taken dips in the “dating pool” and with surprising success: 1 in 5 Tinder users have swiped right on an ad for beer, travel or a movie.

While Tinder hasn’t officially entered into advertising deals with any smaller brands, it hasn’t stopped digital hustlers from turning to the platform to hock their goods and services. In a single swiping sesh, it’s common to see anyone from a photographer offering deals on headshots to a weed dealer sharing his delivery radius. At least, this is all common in Los Angeles, a city packed with aspirational creatives eager to share their links and reels (and stoners).

Falling somewhere in the middle of all that is Eugene Kotlyarenko, an L.A.-based independent filmmaker who regularly uses his personal Tinder account to promote his new romantic comedy, A Wonderful Cloud. The uniquely Tinderific hook? Kotylarenko co-wrote and co-stars in the film with his real-life ex-girlfriend, House of Cards actress Kate Lyn Sheil.

Eugene, 29 (so says his Tinder profile), was 11 when he watched A Clockwork Orange and decided he wanted to make movies. At 13, he made his first film — the riveting tale of cats and dogs rising up against Bob Barker and protesting The Price Is Right’s advertisement of spaying and neutering. Today, Eugene continues to filter the absurdity of our world through his films. His first feature, 0s & 1s, about a guy searching for his lost laptop, brought the chaos of virtual life to screen in a visual bombardment of text messages and pop-up advertisements.

A Wonderful Cloud, which premiered at last year’s South by Southwest, focuses on the uniquely strange experience of staying friends and business partners with someone who broke your heart. On Tinder, Kotlyarenko baits his matches with questions about their dating pasts (e.g., “Are you still friends with your exes?” “Do you keep in touch without touching?”). If getting that personal so quickly is a turn-off, consider swiping left.

Why did you turn to Tinder to market your movie?
Tinder is about creating this illusion of intimate connections with people, and I found myself swiping on it anyway, so I thought, what better way to directly reach out to my audience than to create a bond with them one on one? An interesting thing about the movie is that the lead and myself — we star in it together — are exes. We were a couple at a certain point. And that’s interesting to people.

What’s your typical promotional exchange like?
After we matched, I would let them reach out to me because I didn’t want to seem too desperate or thirsty — or like I’m this weird exploiter. Because I’m not trying to scam; I genuinely wanted people to talk to me. And the handful of people that did talk to me, I would let them go on forever. I’m still down to talk to them now, if they want. Because to me, it’s valuable. You create a project; you want to connect with an audience. And in a very appropriate and unique way, this mini-experiment is an extension of the point of the movie, which is to portray a different type of romantic relationship.

Did you swipe right on as many people as possible?
Tinder has a limit of how many people you can swipe right on. I had to be mildly discerning. I had certain criteria. It wasn’t just, my taste or my instinct tells me the person would like the movie based on their photos or their blurb. Even though I did do that sometimes. I had a rule which was basically: if I had two or more friends in common with the person, or I have even one interest in common with them, I will swipe right automatically. That’s an indicator to me that this person is inclined to see a movie that’s involved in their cultural sphere or social realm. There’s a certain target audience so I used certain criteria to arrive there.

What informs your discernment?
If the stuff they wrote was witty and the picture they took was kind of clever or outlandish. Basically, if they weren’t afraid to be weird or themselves, and they didn’t have the generic, “This is me at the beach! Here’s my six-pack! Here’s me and my girls!” People like that don’t scream to me, “I’m going to make a specific plan to go see a movie I’ve never heard of that doesn’t have any marketing muscle behind it.” Whereas someone who makes bold or interesting life choices, as far as you can tell that from a photo and a little blurb, seems like the sort of person that maybe would take a risk on a very small film.

Do you have a separate profile for personal Tindering?
I’m using the same one. In A Wonderful Cloud, I play a character named Eugene and my ex, Kate, plays a character named Kate. And we’re basically playing these sorts of fictional variations on ourselves. The details are different, and we calibrated our personalities slightly differently, but we are really exploring emotional issues that we had. It’s all tangled up, reality and fiction. I think it’s in the spirit of the movie for me, Eugene, to use my personal account to promote the film.

Are you advertising to men or women?
In my personal Tindering, I only do women. But I put on “show men and women,” and that was wild for me because I learned the trick to matching with men on Tinder.

What’s the trick?
The trick to matching with men on Tinder is you swipe right. Eight out of ten times I swiped right on a man, a match was made.

Have you ever gotten banned for inappropriate use?
I didn’t get banned, I just got warned. I was like shit, “Is it inappropriate that one of the photos is a still from the film where I’m clearly in a sexual position?” Or am I inappropriate because my profile is a promotion for my film? I had to recalibrate it so that I wouldn’t get kicked out, because then this experiment would be over. And then this promotional tier would be over. It used to be all stills from the movie, but then I changed it to be two stills of the movie and the rest profile pics of me.

Have you encountered other promoters?
I got a message from a bot. That’s the flip side. It’s the most cynical thing. It’s preying on people who potentially are lonely. One of the underlying assumptions with Tinder is that, hey, you’re probably lonely, which complicates what I’m doing.

Are you cynical about the way you use Tinder?
Even though it’s clear that I’m using it to promote my movie, I’m not super cynical. I do think everyone should have a forum to sound off on emotional stuff that happened to them, and have another person on the other end be legitimately interested. Even if it’s just for 20 minutes.